Archive for the Reviews Category

Review: Adrestia

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 8, 2019 by Magadh

Adrestia, The Wrath of Euphrates (Phobia Records) 2019

I meant to review Adrestia’s supremely hard-rocking The Wrath of Euphrates months ago when it first came out. But at that point, I was absolutely up to my ears in other projects and it passed out of my sight for a time. What follows take a little while to get where it’s going. If you want the Cliff’s Notes version, this is a really shattering piece of metallic crust, that has the added benefit of having sound political consciousness and an important message. If this is enough for you, feel free to move on down the line. For the rest…

*****

I can remember a lifetime ago standing around at the Mermaid in Birmingham seeing Napalm Death for the first time. In time this would get to be kind of old hat. They opened a lot of shows in Birmingham in those days and I ended up seeing them a bunch of times in the months that I lived in the U.K. in the spring and summer of 1986, but I recall the first time clearly. I recall it because I’d seen Mick Harris, a weedy little guy (not as weedy as myself of course) with the brim of his baseball cap flipped up and Lärm scrawled across it, hanging around the bar for an hour before the show. But this thing I most remember is that they must have done 30 songs in a fifteen minute set.

If I’m remembering correctly, they were a three-piece then and their bassist was singing. Before each of the manic blasts he would bark out whatever the subject of the song was: “This one’s about…destruction of the environment!” But, for all I knew, it might have been about the scoreline of the Aston Villa versus Nottingham Forest football match. It was just completely impenetrable.

I don’t know about those guys, but I do know that a lot of the punks that I met around Notts were pretty politically engaged: going to demos, playing benefits, doing a little light hunt saboteuring here and there. This was a big change for me from the U.S. (or at least my part of it). Politics for us were a bit more abstract. I think we mostly hated Ronald Reagan, but the general run of punks in the U.S. was pretty unpolitical (and sometimes kind of right-wing). I remember one of the Notts punks saying to me, “The only band from the U.S. that I take seriously is Crucifix.”

As I got more toward adulthood (and moved to an actual city as opposed to the backwater town I grew up in), I found more punks being actively engaged, doing non-profit stuff, running Food Not Bombs, etc. But toward the end of the 1980s I felt like that fell off a bit. Punk in the U.S. always had a pretty strong element of personal rather than political focus, and the rise to prominence of the East Bay pop punk bands kind of validated this. Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but only a bit. There were always overtly political bands (especially in Portland where the crust thing was almost cult-like), but as I got older a really began to miss the more political end of things.

The upshot of all of this is that nowadays I have an especially soft spot my heart for bands with serious political commitment. Having followed developments in Rojava for a few years, I was really gratified when Martyrdöd (which reads of this blog will who I have a real thing for) put out a release in support of the cause there.

The struggle of the Kurds for an autonomous homeland perhaps did not receive the support from the community of the left that it might because the fight against groups like ISIL attracts so many from the nutball right. People are justifiably hesitant to take positions that might line them up alongside a bunch of neofascists, and the opposition to ISIL from that end of the spectrum is, more often than not, freighted with a lot of racist and cultural chauvinist baggage.

As Mr. Trump’s recent dealings with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demonstrate, the right has a hard time not simply categorizing non-whites as terrorists to one degree or another (thus Mr. Trump and his supporters were pretty much ok with Erdoğan’s project of ethnically cleansing northern Syria). Support for Rojava, and the YPJ and YPG units fighting to defend their autonomous zone and to root ISIL out of the region, is something decent people can unreservedly get behind.

Martyrdöd took an important step along this path with their video for “Harmageddon” in 2016. The use of actual footage of YPJ fighters in battle was intense and compelling. They then reprised this cut on the In Solidarity with Rojava split EP with Adrestia that came out the following year.

Adrestia’s previous full length, The Art of Modern Warfare (2017) also had Rojava as an important theme. I remember listening to it at the time, but never really connecting to it, although it holds up well now in retrospect. It’s got the kind of crusty aggression that you’d expect, plus the cover has actual colors other than black and white, which is a refreshing change.

The Wrath of Euphrates is a real step forward. This gets my vote for the best record to come out in 2019, and I really don’t think there’s been anything else even close (ok maybe Hellknife, Dusk of Doom which coincidentally is also out on Phobia Records). The Wrath of Euphrates comprises thirteen cuts of hyperaggressive d-beat crust. There is a very significant metal dimension to this disc, with a lot of single-string techniques, overlying melodies that would not have been out of place on an early Dimmu Borgir record. There are also more straight-ahead metal touches (a fair amount of heel damping, pick harmonics, and solos more complicated than the standard d-beat fare). But it all works together.

Their sound bounces around between early Wolfpack and a more Skit System-esque direction. Like a lot of crust bands, they tend to play a lot of melodies over underlying d-beat progressions. But unlike bands like Martyrdöd or Burning Bright, Adrestia’s melodies are more depressing and uglier.

The result is a disc that absolutely blazes with anger and aggression. It’s hard to single out particular cuts as excellent, but if you twist my arm I’d say my favorites are “See You in Hell” and “Afrin.” The former fields a pretty complex lick that then resolves into a skull-crushing d-beat pounder. This one had me headbanging to the point that I nearly wrecked my (thanks guys). “Afrin” features an opening in a sort of eastern sounding progression that is very much outside the norm for this style of music and which helps it develop real atmosphere.

For added awesome, check out the video they did for “The Message” with vocals by former Anti-Cimex singer Tomas Jonsson. I will just sya that I had very good reason to believe that nothing like this would ever happen, so it was nice to hear Jonsson’s voice gracing another record.

The Wrath of Euphrates is about as perfect of a synthesis of metal chops and hardcore aggro that you’re ever going to find. They play their music like the world was coming down around their ears and they’d been invited to play the afterparty with Motörhead. I really can’t imagine what they could do to top this, but I am eager to hear them try.

Review: For I Am

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2019 by Magadh

For I Am Late Bloomers (Bearded Punk Records)

[I dedicate the following lines to the two Belgian punk rocker guys who I met at a Christmas party in Berlin a few years ago. They must have been the only people there who didn’t speak German and, sort of in payment for chatting to them in English but also out of punk rock solidarity, they kept passing me bottles of Duvel until I was absolutely rat-arsed. I hope you lads are well…]

Punk rock, the internet, and a proctologist’s surgery all have one thing in common: one tends to find an above-average proportion of really unpleasant assholes there. Having spent a lot of time around the first two at least, I have (as one must) learned to ignore most of it. But there are moments, often in the late and solitary watches of the night, when the capacity of both the internet and the underground scene to distill the most repugnant qualities of human beings can bring one to an attitude of real loathing.

So it was the other night when, noodling around on Youtube, I found this:

I was pretty deep in my cups at that point, and I honestly can’t remember now why I decided to watch it. Taylor Swift is not really my thing and, as far as pop punk bands go the market is so saturated that it’s rare that one that catches my attention. But, lo, I was really pleasantly surprised. All too often, cover songs tend to be a kind of slavish homage, a lesser version of some greater original. More rarely, a band will take a cut from some other genre and, by translating it into their own, show the original in a new and different light. Leatherface were masters at this, for instance when they covered Abba’s “Eagle” or Elton John’s classic “Candle in the Wind.” But such brilliancies are few and far between, and altogether too rare.

For I Am’s driving cover of “Blank Space” is very much of the latter kind. While the original is very much in the mold of Taylor Swift’s (not unpleasant) more recent bouncy pop material, For I Am kicks out the jams, rendering it in aggressive, guitar-heavy double four time. Vocalist Hanne Terweduwe absolutely makes the whole production, both with her powerful singing chops and the sort of goofball demeanor that she effects. Swift’s original was an expression of her frustration at being painted in the (grossly sexist) press as some kind of man-eater. For that reason, it is important that is a woman delivering the lyrics.

Some gender-specific songs can have their valence reversed to useful effect (for instance Joan Jett’s cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover”). By contrast, “Blank Space” is an attempt to highlight a kind of treatment specifically meted out to women. While there are (I have since discovered) quite a number of covers of this song floating around the net, the ones with dudes singing miss something important.

Anyway, my interest piqued, I headed over to Bandcamp for a little deeper dive. For I Am are from Antwerp. I must admit to my own embarrassment that I’ve probably only ever heard three or four Belgian punk bands. The only one that I can readily remember is Zyklome A, whose Made in Belgium was a classic of 1980s hardcore.

For I Am play pretty straightforward pop punk and just released their third offering, Late Bloomers. There is a refreshing self-awareness about this band. Their profile on Discogs.com features the line, “Does the world really need another pop-punk band? Probably not, but we started one anyway.” That’s fine. Rock the way you want to rock and if the field of pop punk bands is a bit crowded, quality tends to show through.

For I Am’s two prior releases are a 7 song EP from 2014 (15 Minutes Late) and a full CD from 2016 (All About Perspectives). The former was subsequently re-released with three added cuts under the title 15 Minutes Late (Again). These first two offerings have a lot going for them: catchy melodies, efficient arrangements, heavy guitars, a drummer who really knows what he’s doing, and Terweduwe who belts out the vocals with joy and conviction. Their songs cover both personal and political topics, the lyrics smooth and well-composed, especially for people working in their second language (if not their third).

It is one of the great failings of bands generally, and pop punk bands in particular, to find a formula and stick with it. One thinks here, for instance, of No Use For A Name, who settle on a workable approach with ¡Leche Con Carne! and then rerecorded it five more times. Say what you want about Bad Religion, the records that they released after No Control at least responded to the criticism that that record sounded almost exactly like its predecessor.

For those wondering what a new record from For I Am might comprise, I will say that they have resisted the temptation to rest on their laurels. They’ve retained the things that were appealing about their earlier releases while adding some nice touches and different textures. For I Am features a dual guitar attack and interplay is actually pretty subtle. The guitar sound is thick with overdrive. Late Bloomers features some more metallic-sounding techniques than and their prior discs. The songs tend to hit some pretty frenetic speeds, but the melodies are there still present and correct. Their bass player is surpassingly good, playing lots of chordal stuff that sounds at points like the guy from Face to Face (and I think that was about the best thing about that particular band).

Over it all, Hanne Terweduwe’s vocals are a powerful presence. At a couple of points in their web presence, they make the point that there aren’t that many female-fronted bands in Belgium. Probably true, because it’s true for punk rock in general. It’s always been kind of a sausage party, so it’s always nice to find women using the punk scene to amplify their power. The lyrics are smart and heartfelt in the way of modern pop punk, and there are some really clever elements as well. “P.I.G.O.T.R.Y.” makes a kind of cool, backhanded reference to Animal Farm, and this is only the best of a very good bunch.

I’ve been rocking Late Bloomers in my car for days now and it always makes me smile. I don’t always like pop punk, but For I Am makes the noise that my brain wants to hear. Maybe there are a lot of bands like this, but there is always room in the world for a band that rocks this hard.

Review: Röntgen

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 30, 2019 by Magadh

Röntgen, Inhale Death (Blown Out Media)

Quite a cool 7″ released by one of the very few bands from New Mexico that I’ve ever heard. Straight ahead hardcore thrash with little in the way of frills. These guys have some d-beat elements, but they don’t sound like the 8 million Dissober clones out there. Let me just say that I like bands tuned down to C as much as the next guy (maybe more depending on who the next guy is), but I have to admit that it is kind of refreshing to hear this music being rocked in standard tuning. It shows a kind of faith in one’s ability to create rocking punk with artificially punching up the heaviness.

Inhale Death features seven cuts of mostly in a kind of middling tempo. They have some nice changes and lots of feedback, and they don’t commit the cardinal sin of bands in the kängpunk world of making their tunes longer than the underlying ideas will bear. The recording is crisp, especially the guitar sound which has quite pleasing buzzsaw quality to it. The guitarist uses heel damping rather more often than is common in d-beat releases but in that kind of scratchy punk rock way that makes the music sound more intense but not more metallic.

The vocals are not in that super low, unintelligible register that characterizes so many bands like this. The singer sounds like he just came home to find a beloved family pet dismembered on the front lawn.  I still can’t tell what the fuck he’s saying (or really even if it’s a he although the names on the lineup suggest that it is), but he sounds desperate and angry and not so much like a wounded Yeti, which is a plus.

D-beat should always leave you wanting more not less. When I hit the end of this disc after the first listening I immediately queued it up again…because I wanted to hear more. This is punk the way that is should be done: raw and angry. If I could give this band one piece of advice it would be: do not change a fucking thing.

Review: Henry Kane

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 3, 2019 by Magadh

Henry Kane, Den Förstörda Människans Rike, Transcending Obscurity (2017)

A guy I know sent me the link to this the other day and it’s pretty rocking. There are some interesting elements here. This is really nutballs thrash from Sweden. The accompanying blurb describes it as like a cross between Nihilist and Skitsystem, and I’m all for that as a concept, although this is really much more like a more blast beat-laden version of the former than the latter.

This is a solo project done by Jonny Pettersson, the singer from Wombbath. I like Wombbath, although when I listen to them, I often forget that they’re not Diabolical. Even if they were, that would still be pretty good, but anyway. Henry Kane is like a cranked-out version of this, and I must admit that it’s quite enjoyable, although the vocals have a pretty heavy reverb on them that doesn’t always work to their best advantage.

The subject matter of the songs doesn’t break any new ground in the world of death metal nihilism. Not that you necessarily want them to, and maybe that’s really part of the point. They contribute to the atmosphere and knit the whole thing together into a coherent package.
This disc came out a couple of years ago on Transcending Obscurity which is, as far as I am aware, the only extreme metal label based in Mumbai (or in all of India for that matter). They put out some pretty crazy shit and if you look at their catalog you will find that they are carrying the battle for transnational death metal, which is ok in my book.

Review: False Confession

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2019 by Magadh

False Confession, Out of the Basement Demo CD Queer Pills

Sometime in the Spring of 1985 I was in Seattle. This was always a big thing. Seattle was six hours away from my home town, Walla Walla, at the opposite corner of the state, and I wasn’t likely to get there more than once or twice a year.

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Review: Alien Boys

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2019 by Magadh

Alien Boys, Night Danger (Desolate Records)

I’m going to just open up by saying that Vancouver B.C.’s Alien Boys have put out a punk rock record that is pretty close to flawless. If you don’t want to read any further, feel free to head over to their Bandcamp page and see if I’m right. But on the off chance that you need more convincing (from me) I will just say that on Night Danger they have found the sweet spot where rocking really fucking hard (which they do) meets smart, passionate politics (which they have). Honestly, I’m having a hard time thinking of something critical to say about them. Maybe it will come to me later.

First off, I love the name, not only because it is (I’m reasonably certain) a reference to the brilliant EP released by The Wipers in 1980, but also because Alien Boys is a great name for a band made up of five women. They put out a demo in 2016 called Self-Critical Theory. I can’t recall hearing it at the time, but it definitely had promise. It was pleasingly raw, chugging punk with melodies that lifted it above the run of releases in this vein. It was good, but it’s one of those things that looks better when you hear what came after.

Night Danger is in a whole other league. With two guitars the band absolutely thunders through nine cuts (plus the intro) of blazing, melody-tinged punk. There are a lot of reference points in the history of this genre that you could point to. Maybe Rabid Reaction-era Freeze (minus the stupid lyrics) crossed with early SNFU (no, not because they’re Canadian). Alternatively, they sound like The Gits with a second guitar and a lifetime supply of beer and steroids.

Alien Boys are unapologetically political and unflinchingly feminist. They have a kind of tonal similarity to War on Women in this respect, but with a slightly more goofball edge (I’m thinking here of the song “Bender” for which the video is fucking brilliant). Still, when they want to be serious they write songs that really strike home. One of the great failings of dudes (and here I do not exclude myself) is not hearing when women (especially those in the LGBTQ+ community) tell us that they don’t feel safe. “Whose Bodies?” is a great take on this:

When you go out to a nightclub, do you ever look around and wonder “is this safe?”
have you had to hit the ground?
does walking in the street with a loved one hand in hand make you do shoulder checks – because you feel demands from eyes that pry and ask you,
“why do you act this way?”
have you ever been cornered no chance to walk away
countless taken from us and more murdered every day
I’ll tell you something it takes strength to be out in this way
so we resist to this day

Night Danger is loaded with anthemic cuts that are passionately feminist and queer positive. It is, for this reason, not just a great record, but an important one as well. Writing great punk tunes is one thing. Using them as a vehicle for conveying messages that it is crucial that people hear is another. The ability to do both makes this one of the best punk records that I have ever heard.

After so many decades, one often finds oneself wondering if punk as a genre is played out. On the basis of this, you’d have to think it wasn’t. It retains its ability to deliver important messages. Punk always had an element (often a very strong element) of cis white guys mouthing political ideas that they didn’t really understand. But, at its best, it also created (and creates) spaces in which people marginalized people could talk about their lives and their experiences at the tops of their lungs. Sometimes you have to shout at the world because the world doesn’t want to listen. Night Danger is a great example of that.

Review: Martyrdöd

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2019 by Magadh

Martyrdöd, Hexhammeren (Southern fuckin’ Lord)

I wrote somewhere, maybe here, that I always get kind of nervous when I hear that Martyrdöd are about to release a record. I can still remember when I first heard their classic In Extremis (2005), a record which rocked me as hard as anything crust record ever had. Ever since then I’ve been sort of waiting for them to drop off in quality. Sekt, released four years later, was good, but kind of didn’t live up to the earlier release. Paranoia was better but suffered from a bit of indistinctness that often happens to band that is tuned way down. Still, “Tragisk Zeitgeist” was a cut whose rage and power would not have been out of place on In Extremis. Eldop was great. List was better, especially the video for “Harmageddon,” with its footage of heroic women YPG fighters. Long story short, the bar for this band, at least in my estimation, could hardly be higher.

Hexhammeren opens with the title cut, a chugging, heal-damped jackhammer that gallops headlong into the darkness. The slightly more metallic picking style gives the music a different texture, swirling darkly underneath Martyrdöd’s signature melodic overlays. The second track, “Rännilar” (which I think means “rivulets” or something like that) gets back to the more mainline version of the band’s sound. But it is a pummelling track nonetheless, featuring yet another spiraling melodic line.

Since In Extremis, Martyrdöd have made their stock in trade the expression of the anger and sorrow of the world. That record was a barely contained explosion of rage and pain that seemed at all points ready to break the bounds of the recorded medium and to become manifest in the world, anguished and self-aware. Over successive releases, they have polished and refined their sound, but have never lost the edge of furious urgency of their early discs.

Something they’ve added to their repertoire since the release of List three years ago has been video accompaniment. The video for “Harmageddon” mentioned above was an excellent opening shot, juxtaposing footage of the band playing with clips of female YPG fighters doing the business against ISIS. This was particularly effective, not only demonstrating an interest in, and commitment to, actual struggles for actual justice, but also emphasizing the role of women in the ongoing struggle. The band themselves looked on the edge of desperation. Jens Bäckelin attacks his drum kit like a guy administering a beatdown to someone he hates from the old neighborhood.

The new disc is accompanied by videos for “Helveteslarm” and “Pharmacepticon”. The former is good, and has a slightly lighter tone than some of their other material. The latter gets back on model, showing dark and unsettling images over a chunky, mid-tempo cut with a melancholic melody, the sum total of which is quite unsettling.

The material on Hexhammeren constitutes a powerful reaffirmation of the validity of Martyrdöd’s approach. Songs like “Bait and Switch,” “Cashless Society,” and “Den Sista Striden” emerge like explosions of black flame, dripping with overdrive and raw emotion. Martyrdöd’s music is, in a sense, an aphotic apotheosis of crust as a genre, standing as a challenge to every other band to find new ways of fusing darkness and melody. Hexhammeren simply restates this challenge with the accustomed power and clarity.

Since their last record, they’ve had a bit of a lineup change, with Pontus Redig leaving and Tim Rosenqvist moving from bass to guitar. Filling his spot on bass is Daniel Ekeroth, formerly of Dellamorte and a bunch of other bands (and author of the definitive book on the early years of the Swedish death metal scene). So no worries there. If there’s anyone who knows how this music is supposed to sound, or how the bass fits into a band tuned down to somewhere around the key of C, it’s Ekeroth. If I hadn’t known this in advance, I wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

Maybe it’s something in the water. Or maybe they’re just all really depressed. For whatever reason, Sweden seems capable of producing a seemingly endless stream of devastating crust acts, and has been since the early 1980s. One can easily name a dozen such bands without thinking too hard, from Anti-Cimex and Crudes S.S., to Wolfpack and Skit System, and on to Myteri and Misantropic and myriad other groups churning out music that reflects the dark structures of life. Among these, Martyrdöd leads the charge, consistently delivering dark and punishing evidence of the world’s decay.

The world is going down the shitter. That is not news. But it is at least some comfort to be found in the capacity of bands like this to translate the sorrows of the world into forceful mixtures of light and darkness that have the power to block out the anguish of the lived crisis, at least for a moment.  

John from the Eastside